A person who has an antagonistic or unhealthy relationship with authority figures may be described as having an authority problem. In some cases, these people tend to antagonize and resent any authority figure they encounter, regardless of the legitimacy of that person's authority. In other cases, an individual may demonstrate extreme and inappropriate submissiveness in his interactions with authority figures. Both types of behavior are problematic and can cause significant issues for the person with an authority problem. Evidence of this mentality can sometimes be found in children who are diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, and if left unchecked, children with authority problems could develop a personality disorder in adulthood.
In children, consistent challenges to authority figures may lead to a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder. Children who have this condition are considered to be at significant risk for developing more serious personality disorders as they reach adulthood. Interventions may include psychotherapy and supportive services for the child's family as well as an individualized educational program.
While it is not unusual for people to chafe at authority from time to time, some people demonstrate a pattern of authority problems throughout their life. These people may, for example, have difficulty holding a job because they resent their superiors and become uncooperative at work. The person with an authority problem will do this even if his boss is a reasonable person and is making reasonable requests. The problem is not with the boss as a human being, but the position of authority that he holds. An individual with an authority problem may find it impossible to work under someone else's direction and may choose the uncertainty of unemployment or temporary jobs over submitting to a supervisor's authority.
On the other hand, some people with an authority problem may react to authority by submitting even to unreasonable demands. These individuals may be very keen on avoiding conflict or fearful of the consequences of challenging authority. Unfortunately, not all authority figures are benign, and this over-compliance can cause significant problems for those with this type of authority problem. Whether a person's authority problem manifests itself in mindless conflict or over-compliance, having problems with authority can jeopardize an individual's career and relationships and may even land her in legal trouble. Individuals who recognize these traits in themselves may be able to get help and change both their attitudes and behavior by working with a competent counselor or therapist.
At What Age Does Oppositional Defiant Disorder Develop?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, oppositional defiant disorder or ODD is considered a behavioral condition. Doctors diagnose it only when there is a long pattern of uncooperative, defiant behavior. It usually presents first in childhood and is most prevalent in toddlers and young teenagers.
In toddlers, the behavior can look like a temper tantrum. In teenagers, key signs are chronic disobeying, arguing, and talking back to authority figures.
Some of these traits are common in all children and teens. Because of this, most doctors will not consider a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder in either age group unless the aggressive behavior toward authority lasts more than six months.
What Causes Authority Problems?
Doctors have been unable to pinpoint one specific cause of authority problems in children or adults, but there are theories. Most theories are associated with how a person learned behavior as a child.
According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, one theory surrounds a person’s development. This idea theorizes that an adult with oppositional defiant disorder may have struggled to learn independence in childhood. T
his person may have even witnessed a significant power struggle as a child. Watching that power struggle evolve may have had a profound effect on how the child grew to view people in power.
Another theory of what causes authority problems associated with oppositional defiant disorder is that the point of view of a person with ODD is a side effect of negative reinforcement. In this theory, doctors believe the child grew attached to the attention it received for the negative behavior.
Are There Medications for Authority Problems?
There are many options for treating authority problems and oppositional defiant disorder. Most people take medication, make lifestyle changes, seek therapy, or treat with all of the above.
Doctors will typically prescribe neuroleptic medicines to patients who have been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder. According to a study by Muhammad Atif Ameer at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, these medications actively block neurotransmitters or receptors in the brain, limiting the number of messages the brain receives.
Neuroleptics have a significant effect on behavior in both children and adults. They are widely used to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Many of these medicines are FDA-approved, but using them correctly is vital. Each has positive and negative side effects that should be taken seriously. Patients with this disorder should discuss all options with a licensed medical professional first.
How Should I Deal with a Person who Has an Authority Problem?
Being a witness or party to an authority problem can be distracting and discomforting. As the authority figure, being the object of this behavior could even be dangerous.
If you or someone you know is experiencing this behavior, it is necessary to assess the root cause. The underlying issue may present itself as an authority problem but could potentially be more simple. For example, is the person struggling with communication skills? Is this the first interaction with authority in this capacity?
If these questions are not applicable or if the person has a pattern of inappropriate behavior towards authority, there may be other steps you can take. The Mayo Clinic suggests modeling behavior you want the person to have, setting clear limits on what you are uncomfortable with, and choosing your battles with this person wisely if it could lead to confrontation.
How Do I Overcome a Fear of Authority?
For children, symptoms of authority problems or oppositional defiant disorder can fade over time, usually due to a child finding treatment early on and learning healthy ways to interact with authority figures.
In adults, overcoming fear of authority is possible once any underlying issues are identified and treated. Because issues with authority are behavioral, behavioral therapists or psychiatrists that can prescribe medicine are typically the best types of therapists to consult.
People with authority problems often have multiple diagnoses or behavioral issues, making overcoming fear of authority a multi-layer conversation. In most cases, whether the issue is new or has become more intense over the years, an in-depth consultation with a medical professional is vital in providing comprehensive treatment to correct the root of the problem.